The tablet market is well and truly saturated. These days, you can find tablets for as little as £50 and all the way up to £700 and beyond.
Manufacturers deal with the hardware of their tablet, but the operating system is limited to several providers, notably Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows.
With so much to consider, it can be hard to figure out what’s a true bargain and whether you should spend a little bit more for quality.
We guide you through the aspects you should think about when buying a tablet, so that you make the purchase that is right for your needs and your budget.
Tablet sizes vary from about 7 inches wide to anything up to 12 inches.
The size of your tablet’s screen can vary because of the bezel, which is the part between the screen and the edge of your device.
Smaller tablets are great if you’re looking for something more portable and easy to fit in your bag. Larger tablets are more cumbersome and not as ideal for everyday travel usage.
Make sure you get a good screen with anti-glare coating and good colour depth. If you’re able to compare tablets in store, look out for how many fingerprint marks there are on the screens. IPS technology for multi-angle viewing is another good feature.
Screen resolution is important too, and if you mainly want to use your tablet for entertainment – playing games and watching films - it’s worth paying more for a higher resolution and more detail.
The resolution is the number of pixels included in your display – the more, the better. As you may know with TVs, the best screen you can currently get at the moment is 4K (4096x2160) but this amount is yet to reach tablets.
You’re more likely to find a HD (1920x1080) tablet, but probably no less than 1024x600 (known as WSVGA).
Tablets usually have at least 8GB of storage – although some of this can be gobbled up by the pre-installed apps you can’t remove.
Storage options usually increase by ‘doubling’: 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB. Obviously, the more the storage, the more expensive the tablet generally becomes.
Many tablets give you the option of increasing the amount of storage cheaply by using a microSD card. Remember there are also cloud storage options such as BT Cloud, which allow you to save space and store photos, music and film online rather than directly on your tablet.
Most tablets use at least a dual-core processor. A quad-core processor with 2GB RAM adds to the cost, but also means your device will handle games and play videos much more smoothly.
Weaker processors will still be able to run applications like any other tablet but they will struggle to run multiple applications.
There is also the problem of large games and apps that may suck up all the processor’s power – weaker processors will struggle, meaning games can stutter and crash sometimes. Meanwhile, higher processors will be able to handle the extra work.
Cameras really aren’t the standout feature on tablets and should not be considered replacements for smartphone cameras – which are generally better.
Most tablet cameras also lack flash functions too, making them unideal for low light photography.
Few tablet cameras are noteworthy, especially when used indoors in artificial light, so don’t buy a tablet based on how many megapixels it can capture (five megapixels is likely to be the maximum anyway).
It’s best to think of your tablet as a device for viewing photos and, possibly, making video calls. In this case, you’ll want a front-facing camera.
Wi-fi and Bluetooth are included on the majority of tablets, but 3G and 4G models are available too and are usually sold on pay monthly contracts. If you’ve got a smartphone, you probably don’t need 3G on your tablet as well, unless you are using it out and about for work.
Price: £30 to £400
Android is Google’s operating system for tablets and phones, so you’ll need to sign up for a free Google or Gmail account to use it.
Android apps are bought and downloaded from the Google Play Store. There are thousands of Android tablet apps, but they aren’t as heavily quality controlled as those in the Apple App Store and many aren’t very good, so ensure you take a careful look before downloading. Most apps are free, however, so downloading a duff one will cost you no more than time and inconvenience.
Unfortunately, some apps containing viruses have got past checks and onto tablets from the Google Play Store - but if you’re downloading a well-known and trusted brand this shouldn’t be a concern.
Android tablets are made by lots of different companies, not all whose names will be familiar. Samsung and Sony are the best-known brands in the Android tablet game, but LG, Acer, Asus and Toshiba are other dependable brands. Google also co-develops tablets such as the Nexus 9, which it made with HTC.
Some of these companies add their own apps and bespoke look to the Android tablets they sell, but these aren’t to everyone’s taste. For instance Samsung tablets run TouchWiz, a heavy user interface with lots of different features. It even includes Samsung’s own app store.
On the other hand, manufacturer specific extras such as the Guest Mode on Sony Xperia tablets make it easier to make the device child-friendly and keep adult content at bay.
There are lots of Android tablets to choose from and price is often a good indicator of quality.
If you really need to keep costs down you can buy an Android tablet for as little as £60, but there will be a huge difference in the build quality, screen resolution and the performance of it compared to, say, the £499 Sony Xperia Z4 10.1 inch tablet with its 2560x1600 resolution. In comparison, the little-known JINYJIA 7-inch tablet has a £28.58 price tag and only an 800x480 resolution, the £119 Tesco Hudl 2 has a 1200x1200 pixel screen, while Google’s own 9 inch Nexus 9 tablet costs £259 and has 2048x1536 pixels.
For occasional web browsing and checking your email, a budget tablet costing £90 to £120, such as the Tesco Hudl 2 (if you can get hold of one), will probably suffice. If you want a tablet that will get regular use, for instance for listening to music, watching videos and extensive gaming and app use, you need to be looking in the £200-plus range such as the Google Nexus 9 or at a big screen tablet like the Sony Xperia Tablet Z4 (£400-plus).
Google tends to update Android every year – the most recent release is called Marshmallow - but phones and tablets are still being sold with older versions of Android such as KitKat and Lollipop. Updates are issued at different times depending on the agreement the particular tablet maker has with Google. If in doubt opt for one of Google’s own Nexus brand devices, which are guaranteed at least two updates and will always feature the latest version of the operating system.
Price: £279 - £899
Such is its popularity, the iPad name is pretty much synonymous with tablet.
The build quality, design, ease of use and choice of apps has proved reason enough for millions of people to choose an iPad and you’re unlikely to regret following suit. In fact, price is the most likely deterrent to choosing one.
Apps are downloaded from the Apple App Store. There are millions to choose from, many designed especially for use on a tablet.
Apple tends to update its operating system every year, most recently to iOS 9, to add new features and functionality. Because it has so few tablets - unlike Android - Apple is pretty good at providing updates to older devices.
Amazon Kindle Fire
Price: £50 to £329
Amazon uses a customised version of the Android operating system called Fire OS5 on its tablets.
As with Apple’s products, however, Kindle is a closed shop, so you can’t install apps on your Kindle tablet that you haven’t bought through the Amazon App Store, using your Amazon log-in. This means you get a properly curated library of apps to choose from and install, but as a result, the selection is much more limited than Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
Amazon recently launched the new Underground app store, which allows users to download apps that are completely free without in-app purchases.
If you already use Amazon Prime you’ll get more out of Kindle and Fire tablets as the choice is quite walled in. Don’t expect to find an official YouTube or Google Maps app.
The current generation of Kindles ranges from the budget Fire tablet, which costs only £49.99, right the way up to the Fire HD 10, costing £169.99. To keep prices low, Amazon’s tablets feature sponsored screensavers (adverts) on the tablet which don’t interrupt you while you’re using it. You can pay an extra £10 to have them removed.
The basic Fire tablet gets you a 7 inch 1024x600 display, 8GB of storage and a quad-core 1.3GHz processor, while the top-end Fire HD 10 has a 10.1 inch HD display with 1280x800 resolution, 16 or 32GB of storage and a quad-core processor up to 1.5 GHz.
Spending an extra £110 gets you a better screen and more powerful device overall, but it depends on your needs. The Fire HD10 is more suited for entertainment – especially if you use Amazon Prime already – whereas the Fire is suitable for smaller tasks.
Price: £419 to £1,799
Microsoft’s slice of the tablet market comes in the form of its Surface devices, which burst onto the scene in 2012.
The Surface Pro 4 is the company’s latest offering, which comes with the newest operating system Windows 10 already installed.
Microsoft has rolled out Windows 10 to all existing Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 users on a tablet or a PC, so if you’ve already upgraded, much of it will be very familiar.
The Pro 4 comes in a variety of options – the cheapest being £749 with 128GB of storage and an Intel Core m3 processor with 4GB of RAM. The highest option gives you 512GB, an Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM, but it will set you back £1,799.
The Surfaces work much more like a PC with touchscreen capabilities. Finger-friendly apps can be downloaded from the Windows Store. You can also navigate with the Surface Pen and buy a Cover keyboard too, to use it more like a standard PC.
Synchronisation across Windows devices is seamless thanks to the need to log in with your own user account on each one. Unique features to Microsoft tablets include a handy Groove Music streaming service plus the ability to port your Xbox games to your tablet, and full versions of Microsoft Office and OneDrive.
What tablet are you considering? Let us know in the Comments section below.